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How Do I Fly Somewhere, Buy a Car and Drive It Home?

Hello and welcome to the latest round of Ask Doug, your favorite weekly post where you Ask Doug a question, usually about cars, and Doug provides you with an answer, usually about the sixth — and finest — season of Gilmore Girls.

If you’d like to participate in Ask Doug, you can! Just send me an email at, or send me a message on my Facebook page. I am equally receptive to both methods of communication, and I will also accept questions from people who randomly approach me on the street and ask if I am “that car guy from the Internet.”

Anyway: Today’s question comes to us from a reader I’ve named Thad. Thad writes:


I live in Raleigh, NC, where you recently flew in and drove home in your new Viper, removing a desirable car from our local market. Not cool man, not cool.

But, that’s what my question is about: What prep is required to fly into a town, out of your home state, and drive a car home? I’ve been looking at a CTS-V Wagon in Texas. I want to do exactly that, but how do I handle the insurance, tags, and registration for the trip home? What if I wreck or get pulled over on the way?


For those of you who don’t want to waste your precious, precious time reading — when you could be watching the sixth season of Gilmore Girls — please allow me to sum up Thad’s question. He is asking what exactly you need when you fly into another state to buy a car and drive it home.

And although I feel like I’ve possibly answered this question in an earlier edition of Ask Doug, it’s nonetheless one that I get rather often. So today, I’m going to provide a long, comprehensive answer, and then you all will tell me how wrong I am.

Actually, in today’s rare edition of Ask Doug, I’m not wrong at all, because I have crossed state lines to purchase a car and drive it home on eight separate occasions in my life — all with varying degrees of success. And I can even answer Thad’s final question — What happens if I get pulled over along the way? — because that actually happened to me.

So here’s the situation, Thad: When you go somewhere far away to buy a car, the first thing you’ll want to make sure you have is insurance. I always insure my out-of-state purchases before I arrive in the place where I’m buying them, and I always print out the insurance card before I even get on the plane. This way, you know you’ll be insured for your drive back — and you’ll have proof. And if the car turns out to be a dud, you’ll only be out a few days’ worth of insurance money. Yes, sure, your insurance company tells you that you have 30 days after a car purchase to get it on your policy — but you don’t want to smash into a truck full of chickens in rural Mississippi only to have everyone start asking insurance questions.

Registration is a little trickier. When I’m buying a car from an out-of-state private seller, I always try to convince the seller to let me drive away on his or her license plate — a courtesy I’ve also extended to virtually anyone who has ever purchased a car from me and driven it a long distance.

Here’s my thinking: If you’re selling a car and you get good documentation — including a properly completed bill of sale — then letting someone drive on your license plate for a day or two shouldn’t really be a problem for you. It’s a much bigger deal for the buyer, who could run into serious trouble getting home safely if he or she has to drive hundreds (or thousands) of miles without a license plate. Of course, if the car is at a dealership, the dealer should be able to write or print a temporary license plate for you, rendering this issue moot.

So what happens if you get pulled over? As it happens, I got pulled over in western Kansas in July 2011 while I was driving across the country in my newly purchased Lotus Elise, which I brought from the previous owner’s house in the San Francisco Bay Area to mine in Atlanta. At the time I was stopped, I had the previous owner’s license plates on the car.

Now, I can’t speak to the way every single police officer will handle this situation, but the one who stopped me had no problem with it. I explained to him that I had just purchased the car, and then I showed him the previous owner’s registration, the signed title, the bill of sale, my driver’s license and my insurance card. He thanked me for having everything in order, walked back to his car, and came back a few minutes later with all my paperwork — and a citation. Then I continued along, uneventfully, for the rest of the trip.

And what if the prior owner won’t give you his license plates? That happened to me once, too: I bought a Porsche 911 Turbo in Florida, and the previous owner insisted I couldn’t have his plates. So I screwed in a dealership license-plate insert, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. I didn’t get pulled over, but it wasn’t a happy drive home — and it became even less happy when I discovered the car immediately needed a clutch replacement upon arriving back in Atlanta. Which is probably why he didn’t want me to keep his license plate.

So that’s a basic rundown of the paperwork you’ll want when you’re driving home in someone else’s car. Of course, I also suggest getting a prepurchase inspection from a mechanic in the seller’s area before you spend any money on plane tickets — and I suggest taking a test drive and personally looking over the car once you arrive.

After all, Thad, don’t forget: You’re free to back out until you’re driving away. Once that happens, that new CTS-V Wagon is your car — even if you find yourself cruising through Arkansas, on your way back home, and you decide to pull over to pop the hood, and to gaze at your new supercharged V8, and you realize the engine is just a 4-cylinder, and you’ve spent the last 800 miles listening to a CD with recorded engine noises from a Hellcat.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from its original content


Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. I purchased a car out of state so I could not see it personally.  So, I decided to use Lemon Squad.  The car looked great but there was a note in the CARFAX about vibration being checked.  I had driven a few of the cars before and all had some level of vibration during acceleration.  So, I was not overly concerned but asked specifically that the technician check this out.  I also asked that any cosmetic defects be photographed.  
    The tech drove the car and did not find any vibration according to his report.  He also noted that there were some scratches consistent with age specifically that there were some scratches under the front bumper that you needed to bend down to see.
    Based on the report I drove down to see the car (7 hours).  When I got there the car looked good, but, there were a number of visible scratches on the front bumper and you didn’t need to bend down to see them.  I was ok with that but it would have been nice to have the pictures of this so that I could have made the decision before driving down.
    Driving the car I found that there was vibration during acceleration.  It was a bit worse than what I had seen but given the clean bill of health I got from Lemon Squad I decided to take the car.
    When I brought it home I had a nagging feeling that something was not quite right.  So, I brought the car into a local mechanic.  He found the following:
    1.  The top engine mount was leaking hydraulic fluid and needed to be replaced.
    2.  A control arm bushing was torn and a ball joint needed to be replaced (you replace them in pairs – right and left typically).  
    3.   The CV joints had been replaced with aftermarket units and they were out of balance causing the vibration – this is a manufacturing issue.
    4.  The timing belt needed to be replaced along with the serpentine belt.  The timing belt on the purchased needs to be replaced at 105K or after 10 years (car is 13 years old).
    The response from Lemon Squad was less than helpful.  You have 2 weeks to refute the report and it did take some time to get the car over to the local mechanic (about 3 weeks for me – didn’t do it right away because I had just paid 200 dollars to Lemon Squad so I was hesitant to spend more money.  
    The summary of their response was:
    1.  They can only report what they find at the time of the report (all of these things were issues at that time).  
    2.  I waited too long to contact them – again, I spent 200 dollars so I was hesitant to spend more money on an additional inspection.
    3.  They can’t lift the car so they can’t find some things – but, they are supposed to get around the fact that they can’t lift the car by using mirrors to inspect the underside of the car.  Control arm bushing was torn and visible, engine mount was on top of the engine and visible – should have found these things.
    4.  Said no vibration when driven – not possible.  The issue is a manufacturing defect (CVs were out of balance – too long or short).  It is not something that comes and goes.  A skilled mechanic would be able to identify/diagnose the issue.  The local mechanic called this out immediately.
    5.  It would have been nice to know that the timing belt replacement was due.  This is a common replacement item on many cars but the schedule differs (so at 90k, some at 100K+ some have a time component as well).
    In any event, they give themselves plenty of wiggle room to take absolutely no responsibility.  If you need assistance with a car I couldn’t recommend them any less…
    Responses from Lemon Squad – this is what you can expect
    We do our best to catch all the scratches, but we can’t get them all.  
    Lemon Squad
    I checked with the inspector about your concerns and if you refer to the sample report, we didn’t have access to a lift with this seller.  Some items aren’t able to be assessed unless you have a compete look underneath the vehicle.  The inspector did report on the condition of the vehicle when he was there, and gave you his report, on items that we are able to check on the pre-purchase inspection.
    The inspector reported that during the road test the driver (wife), drove slow, and up to 80 mph, and the vehicle didn’t have any issues with vibrations, noises, clunking, shaking to indicate that there were any issues with this vehicle.  Tire wear was even, ride was smooth, nothing to show an issue.  
    We have also talked with the inspector, he states the issues you are having did not present themselves for him on the day of the inspection. We can only report on things that are acting up while we are there with the vehicle. Remember, we are not a warranty company. We do not fix, work or disassemble cars. Things can fail after we leave the vehicle. Some issues can even be intermittent.
    All in all I had a 2800 dollar repair bill on a car that had been given a clean bill of health.

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